DREAM Mentor: Santiago Celis Zapata

posted in: DREAM, Volunteer Testimonies | 0

Reledev’s DREAM Project is all about reaching out to young students of refugee backgrounds who have settled in Australia. The challenge of settling in a new country is enormous: foreign language, foreign culture, foreign way of doing ordinary things like going to school, taking public transport, finding friends.┬áDREAM was established to provide peer to peer mentoring for young refugee students in Australia, with the goal of empowering them as future leaders in Australian society.

We caught up with one of our past DREAM volunteers Santiago Celis Zapata, a 23 year old, Macquarie University student, studying Biology. Santi is originally from Colombia and began volunteering for the DREAM boys program at Patrician Brothers Fairfield in 2018. He shares what motivated him to work so closely with refugee students and encourages others to get involved with the program.

How did you hear/get involved with DREAM Project? Online – through Macquarie University Career Hub.

What motivated you to volunteer? I was looking for an internship and I decided I wanted to explore within the education industry, investing my time within a cause which would help and have impact in the community.

Tell us a little bit about your role within the DREAM Project. I was part of the first group of mentors for the boys program of the DREAM Project. I also helped with digital marketing, promoting the project through social media i.e. Facebook. I was also able to help with the recruitment process of new volunteers and I was able to lead a fundraising initiative for DREAM.

What have been some highlights of being a volunteer for the DREAM Project? In all the activities within the project, I could learn a lot from the students, the other mentors and the other leaders that work with DREAM. I could also express my creativity thanks to the marketing activities, and I was able to learn how to use different tools that were really useful through activities such as the fundraising.

I could practice my communication skills and learn how to help others to understand a specific topic (students and mentors) and motivate them with the presentations I had to prepare.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering for DREAM? The only advice I would give is to be ready to explore a lot of who you are, the world and others, through different educational and professional guides and environments.

Describe the time commitment to volunteer. How do you find a balance with work and study? I consider the time I had to invest at the DREAM Project was really flexible and it fit really well with my other responsibilities such as work and study. This was due to the hourly rate during the week, which is not long. The project is really organised and times are not very prolonged, making the balance between the volunteering and the other life aspects really manageable and enjoyable.

What have you learned about yourself and others since joining DREAM? I learned a lot of things specially from the refugee students and the other volunteers. We were a diverse group of guys with different backgrounds, life perspectives and a lot of things to share. I could learn about time management, relationships management, different ways of learning, importance of extracurricular activities, team work, different professional life pathways and heaps of topics that were really useful for my life.

Tell us a bit about some of the experiences mentoring refugee students. I personally really loved mentoring high school students. The fact that they were a refugee or not did not matter that much, because at the end of the day, they were just guys passing through school as at some point in time that I did. I had a lot of fun with the guys and I could remember the way I used to think back when I was at high school, but this time – the other mentors and I could advise and guide the students about things we would had loved someone to tell us back in those days.

The feeling of seeing the students we were working with – growing up, gaining new skills and overcoming their insecurities is something I cannot describe with words. I can just say I would have loved to have something like the DREAM Project back when I was at high school.

What is it like working with the other DREAM volunteers? Working with the DREAM Project is like getting back to school in a really funny way, because you are going to learn a lot of things about the topics you are really interested in, while you help others to achieve their dreams and at the end you get that grateful feeling of ‘I did something that really helped and impacted someone’s life’ plus you are going to get a lot of benefits for your professional skills and life.

Last thoughts on DREAM. Volunteering at the DREAM Project is an opportunity to learn about yourself through helping students with different soft and hard skills, and different mentors who are going to enrich your life perspective and give new ideas and different ways to see the world we live in.

It is a great opportunity to help the community and gain a lot of invaluable experiences and friends from it. Volunteering with the project is also going to be a school for your professional life, thanks to the professional mentoring system where you are going to get a lot from professionals working in the industry of your interest.

Would you like to volunteer for the DREAM Project? We are accepting applications now. Please fill out an online form to register your interest. https://reledev.org.au/volunteers/

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